POV: Ayn Rand excerpts on Religion
ARI’s Point of View on Religion and a Free Society
In Ayn Rand’s philosophy, the most important issue in human life is the supremacy and absolutism of reason. This leads Rand to reject any form of faith or belief in the supernatural, including God, as well as religious moral teachings, which order man to obey authority rather than to pursue his own rational interests.
Politically, Rand argues that reason leads to freedom and that faith — belief in the absence of or contrary to evidence — leads to force. A man who understands that reason is an absolute will demand his inalienable right to think and live for himself. On the other hand, Rand writes, anyone “who resorts to the formula: ‘It’s so, because I say so,’ will have to reach for a gun, sooner or later.”
The following passages on religion are taken from the Ayn Rand Lexicon, a compilation of key statements from Rand (and from a few other authorized Objectivist texts) on several hundred topics in philosophy and related fields. Although these passages are not intended to provide a systematic or exhaustive treatment of Rand’s views on religion, they touch on many key issues and indicate her unique perspective.
ARI, guided by our mission to advance the philosophy of Objectivism, upholds reality, reason and the morality of rational egoism, and opposes any attempt to base morality on faith or to inject religion into government.
Ayn Rand Excerpts on Religion
Has no religion, in your estimation, ever offered anything of constructive value to human life?
Qua religion, no — in the sense of blind belief, belief unsupported by, or contrary to, the facts of reality and the conclusions of reason. Faith, as such, is extremely detrimental to human life: it is the negation of reason. But you must remember that religion is an early form of philosophy, that the first attempts to explain the universe, to give a coherent frame of reference to man’s life and a code of moral values, were made by religion, before men graduated or developed enough to have philosophy. And, as philosophies, some religions have very valuable moral points. They may have a good influence or proper principles to inculcate, but in a very contradictory context and, on a very — how should I say it? — dangerous or malevolent base: on the ground of faith.
Playboy Interview: Ayn Rand, Playboy, March 1964
Christ, in terms of the Christian philosophy, is the human ideal. He personifies that which men should strive to emulate. Yet, according to the Christian mythology, he died on the cross not for his own sins but for the sins of the nonideal people. In other words, a man of perfect virtue was sacrificed for men who are vicious and who are expected or supposed to accept that sacrifice. If I were a Christian, nothing could make me more indignant than that: the notion of sacrificing the ideal to the nonideal, or virtue to vice. And it is in the name of that symbol that men are asked to sacrifice themselves for their inferiors. That is precisely how the symbolism is used.
Playboy Interview: Ayn Rand, Playboy, March 1964
What is the nature of the guilt that your teachers call [man’s] Original Sin? What are the evils man acquired when he fell from a state they consider perfection? Their myth declares that he ate the fruit of the tree of knowledge — he acquired a mind and became a rational being. It was the knowledge of good and evil — he became a moral being. He was sentenced to earn his bread by his labor — he became a productive being. He was sentenced to experience desire — he acquired the capacity of sexual enjoyment. The evils for which they damn him are reason, morality, creativeness, joy — all the cardinal values of his existence. It is not his vices that their myth of man’s fall is designed to explain and condemn, it is not his errors that they hold as his guilt, but the essence of his nature as man. Whatever he was — that robot in the Garden of Eden, who existed without mind, without values, without labor, without love — he was not man.
Man’s fall, according to your teachers, was that he gained the virtues required to live. These virtues, by their standard, are his Sin. His evil, they charge, is that he’s man. His guilt, they charge, is that he lives.
They call it a morality of mercy and a doctrine of love for man.
No, they say, they do not preach that man is evil, the evil is only that alien object: his body. No, they say, they do not wish to kill him, they only wish to make him lose his body. They seek to help him, they say, against his pain — and they point at the torture rack to which they’ve tied him, the rack with two wheels that pull him in opposite directions, the rack of the doctrine that splits his soul and body.
Galt’s Speech, For the New Intellectual, 137
The good, say the mystics of spirit, is God, a being whose only definition is that he is beyond man’s power to conceive — a definition that invalidates man’s consciousness and nullifies his concepts of existence. . . . Man’s mind, say the mystics of spirit, must be subordinated to the will of God. . . . Man’s standard of value, say the mystics of spirit, is the pleasure of God, whose standards are beyond man’s power of comprehension and must be accepted on faith . . . The purpose of man’s life . . . is to become an abject zombie who serves a purpose he does not know, for reasons he is not to question.
Galt’s Speech, For the New Intellectual, 139
The kind of sense of life that produced the [papal] encyclical “Populorum Progressio” . . . was not produced by the sense of life of any one person, but by the sense of life of an institution.
The dominant chord of the encyclical’s sense of life is hatred for man’s mind — hence hatred for man — hence hatred for life and for this earth — hence hatred for man’s enjoyment of his life on earth — and hence, as a last and least consequence, hatred for the only social system that makes all these values possible in practice: capitalism.
“Requiem for Man,” Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal, 304
The encyclical is the voice of the Dark Ages, rising again in today’s intellectual vacuum, like a cold wind whistling through the empty streets of an abandoned civilization.
Unable to resolve a lethal contradiction, the conflict between individualism and altruism, the West is giving up. When men give up reason and freedom, the vacuum is filled by faith and force.
No social system can stand for long without a moral base. Project a magnificent skyscraper being built on quicksands: while men are struggling upward to add the hundredth and two-hundredth stories, the tenth and twentieth are vanishing, sucked under by the muck. That is the history of capitalism, of its swaying, tottering attempt to stand erect on the foundation of the altruist morality.
It’s either-or. If capitalism’s befuddled, guilt-ridden apologists do not know it, two fully consistent representatives of altruism do know it: Catholicism and communism.
Their rapprochement, therefore, is not astonishing. Their differences pertain only to the supernatural, but here, in reality, on earth, they have three cardinal elements in common: the same morality, altruism — the same goal, global rule by force — the same enemy, man’s mind.
There is a precedent for their strategy. In the German election of 1933, the communists supported the Nazis, on the premise that they could fight each other for power later, but must first destroy their common enemy, capitalism. Today, Catholicism and communism may well cooperate, on the premise that they will fight each other for power later, but must first destroy their common enemy, the individual, by forcing mankind to unite to form one neck ready for one leash.
“Requiem for Man,” Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal, 316
Is there any difference between the encyclical’s philosophy and communism? I am perfectly willing, on this matter, to take the word of an eminent Catholic authority. Under the headline: “Encyclical Termed Rebuff to Marxism,” The New York Times of March 31, 1967, reports: “The Rev. John Courtney Murray, the prominent Jesuit theologian, described Pope Paul’s newest encyclical yesterday as ‘the church’s definitive answer to Marxism.’ . . . ‘The Marxists have proposed one way, and in pursuing their program they rely on man alone,’ Father Murray said. ‘Now Pope Paul VI has issued a detailed plan to accomplish the same goal on the basis of true humanism — humanism that recognizes man’s religious nature.’”
So much for those American “conservatives” who claim that religion is the base of capitalism — and who believe that they can have capitalism and eat it, too, as the moral cannibalism of the altruist ethics demands.
And so much for those modern “liberals” who pride themselves on being the champions of reason, science, and progress — and who smear the advocates of capitalism as superstitious, reactionary representatives of a dark past. Move over, comrades, and make room for your latest fellow-travelers, who had always belonged on your side — then take a look, if you dare, at the kind of past they represent.
“Requiem for Man,” Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal, 314
[There is one] possibly misleading sentence . . . in Roark’s speech: “From this simplest necessity to the highest religious abstraction, from the wheel to the skyscraper, everything we are and everything we have comes from a single attribute of man — the function of his reasoning mind.”
This could be misinterpreted to mean an endorsement of religion or religious ideas. I remember hesitating over that sentence, when I wrote it, and deciding that Roark’s and my atheism, as well as the overall spirit of the book, were so clearly established that no one would misunderstand it, particularly since I said that religious abstractions are the product of man’s mind, not of supernatural revelation.
But an issue of this sort should not be left to implications. What I was referring to was not religion as such, but a special category of abstractions, the most exalted one, which, for centuries, had been the near-monopoly of religion: ethics — not the particular content of religious ethics, but the abstraction “ethics,” the realm of values, man’s code of good and evil, with the emotional connotations of height, uplift, nobility, reverence, grandeur, which pertain to the realm of man’s values, but which religion has arrogated to itself . . .
Religion’s monopoly in the field of ethics has made it extremely difficult to communicate the emotional meaning and connotations of a rational view of life. Just as religion has pre-empted the field of ethics, turning morality against man, so it has usurped the highest moral concepts of our language, placing them outside this earth and beyond man’s reach. “Exaltation” is usually taken to mean an emotional state evoked by contemplating the supernatural. “Worship” means the emotional experience of loyalty and dedication to something higher than man. “Reverence” means the emotion of a sacred respect, to be experienced on one’s knees. “Sacred” means superior to and not-to-be-touched-by any concerns of man or of this earth. Etc.
But such concepts do name actual emotions, even though no supernatural dimension exists; and these emotions are experienced as uplifting or ennobling, without the self-abasement required by religious definitions. What, then, is their source or referent in reality? It is the entire emotional realm of man’s dedication to a moral ideal. Yet apart from the man-degrading aspects introduced by religion, that emotional realm is left unidentified, without concepts, words or recognition.
It is this highest level of man’s emotions that has to be redeemed from the murk of mysticism and redirected at its proper object: man.
“Introduction to The Fountainhead,” The Objectivist, March 1968, 4
Philosophy is the goal toward which religion was only a helplessly blind groping. The grandeur, the reverence, the exalted purity, the austere dedication to the pursuit of truth, which are commonly associated with religion, should properly belong to the field of philosophy.
“The Chickens’ Homecoming,” Return of the Primitive: The Anti-Industrial Revolution, 46
The ideology that opposes man’s enjoyment of his life on earth and holds sex as such to be evil — the same ideology that is the source and cause of anti-obscenity censorship [is]: religion.
For a discussion of the profound, metaphysical reasons of religion’s antagonism to sex, I refer you to my article “Of Living Death” (The Voice of Reason), which deals with the papal encyclical on contraception, “Of Human Life.” Today, most people who profess to be religious, particularly in this country, do not share that condemnation of sex — but it is an ancient tradition which survives, consciously or subconsciously, even in the minds of many irreligious persons, because it is a logical consequence implicit in the basic causes and motives of any form of mysticism.
“Thought Control,” The Ayn Rand Letter, III, 1, 3
Since religion is a primitive form of philosophy — an attempt to offer a comprehensive view of reality — many of its myths are distorted, dramatized allegories based on some element of truth, some actual, if profoundly elusive, aspect of man’s existence.
“Philosophy and Sense of Life,” The Romantic Manifesto, 25
In mankind’s history, art began as an adjunct (and, often, a monopoly) of religion. Religion was the primitive form of philosophy: it provided man with a comprehensive view of existence. Observe that the art of those primitive cultures was a concretization of their religion’s metaphysical and ethical abstractions.
“The Psycho-Epistemology of Art,” The Romantic Manifesto, 20
It has often been noted that a proof of God would be fatal to religion: a God susceptible of proof would have to be finite and limited; He would be one entity among others within the universe, not a mystic omnipotence transcending science and reality. What nourishes the spirit of religion is not proof, but faith, i.e., the undercutting of man’s mind.
Leonard Peikoff, “‘Maybe You’re Wrong,’” The Objectivist Forum, April 1981, 12
Ayn Rand, “Religion,” The Ayn Rand Lexicon (New York: Meridian, 1988).